My howling Mashangva experience
Jyaneswar Laishram *
Truncated from the maddening crowd of Delhi is a greenbelt where its essence of natural tranquility reminds me of my hilly hometown of Bishenpur. A momentary stroll down the serpentine roads across the lush-green campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi is an incredible delight as it offers me the contentment of my long-lost Manipur days. My recent visit to the campus on August 21, 2010 was not only to touch the greenery but also feel the spirits of my far and away homeland through the music of Guru Ruben Mashangva, Imphal Talkies N Howlers, HR Experience and H Kom (Stoney).
I was late to the musical event titled 'Shared Solace' held at the School of Social Science 1 Auditorium, JNU under the philanthropic efforts of Burning Voices supported by Manipur Research Forum Delhi (MRFD) and E-Pao. Amid the leafy arcadia of the campus I kept running for awhile in search of the auditorium where the musical event was staged. Fresh raindrops still clawed on tips of tree leaves after a sudden downpour. Sweet smell of mud I felt was from the rain-soaked red soil lying on roadsides. What fascinated me in the scene also included the western horizon painted in crimson of April sunset, appearing partially through tree boughs.
With a little help from my friends via mobile phones, I finally entered the auditorium, abandoning the serenity of the campus. I was regretted for missing the first half of the historic musical execution, which was unveiled in a perfect way to deliver a message of love, peace and unity to the people of my turmoil-hit Manipur. No matter how much I know about Tangkhul (Naga) folk music, but what Ruben crooned at the show touched my emotion deep inside, reminding me of those winter mornings I woke up to the sound of songs which wind brought down from the hill of Parengba during Christmas.
Parengba is a small Kabui village located on a hilltop, approximately three kilometers away from my Bishenpur home. Many lads from the village were in my class when I was in elementary school. They often told me stories about the ways Parengba and other neighbouring villages like Chingning Khun, Nungsai and Thangning Khun conduct musical sessions on Christmas nights. It was the soul stirring folk songs played in rhythm of a single-string instrument (a pena kind) that broke the eerie of mid-winter nights bathing in cold midnight dew. I sometimes left open my bedroom window to let in the harmonious wail that dragged me away from ordinary ecstasy of Christmas carol to a more abstract imaginary of folk tune.
'Shared Solace' was my first event seeing Mashangva performed live on stage along with his nine-year-old son Saka Mashangva. I have already heard uproar among many folk purists praising the significance of Mashangva's music. But my maiden experience of his music at 'Shared Solace' was something else beyond what I expected from him. In fact, my knowledge of music is not mature enough to give proper appreciation of Mashangva's songs. His music is perhaps a discovery of the finest facet of our homegrown tune which had been buried unnoticed for a long time. Mashangva's songs have to be understood in terms of its autonomy and ability to transcend time and place.
Moreover, 'Shared Solace' developed the buoyancy of widespread creation of new genres and ensembles through cross-cultural interactions in some forms or others based on the emulation of Manipuri rock music. Songs of Ronid (Akhu) Chingangbam, front man of Imphal Talkies N Howlers, imparted to a new standard in the realm of contemporary rock music. His folk rock-centric howl modeling on Bob Dylan marked a bottom line far removed from the occasional and sporadic fashion of conventional Manipuri music. The band's lineup is energetically arrayed with Thingnam Sanjeev on lead guitars and bassist Raju Athokpam who extensively play big roles to churn out nerve racking protest songs viz. When The Home Is Burning, The Ghost Of Machang Lalung, Freedom among others that enthralled the crowd at 'Shared Solace'.
Emerged as an exponent in the scene of Manipuri folk rock, Ronid has a gamut of songs in Meeteilon (regional language) under his belt, each of them drew from the influences including blues, soul, alternative and some rock n' roll. His distinctive delivery of a Lai Haraoba (Manipuri folk) song fusing with blues in an alternative lyrics at the onset of 'Shared Solace' simply proved a characteristic contentment in the music of Imphal Talkies N Howlers. In the similar line was H Kom (Stoney) who delivered (boar hunting) Kom folk song composed in a refined blend with popular R&B tune.
After all, my earnest assumption is that 'Shared Solace' couldn't have reached its crescendo without HR Experience. Loosely inspired by Jimmy Hendrix Experience, output of HR Experience was an amalgamation of different inputs thoroughly overhauled as a result of blues combined with free jazz, by rejecting the normative jazz practices. Those who lately discovered the band lineup of HR Experience at the end of the event were astounded to see the new avatar of Manipur rock music. Of course, lead guitarist Chongtham Vikram and bassist R K Raju of HR Experience need no introduction if you are in the league of those who have been revolved around the Manipuri rock scene over the last two decades.
Vikaram and Raju had played pivotal roles to write success stories of several current and erstwhile rock bands including Cannibals, Phoenix, Eastern Dark and others across the region. Further, perceptible in HR Experience is its young and enthusiastic drummer, Aditya Singh. I have seen a couple of HR Experience concerts so far in which Aditya did magic, often taking unusual instrumental sounds as the basis of timeless jazz techniques sculpted with distorted conventional rock and roll. Overall concepts and performances I found at 'Shared Solace' forecasted a generation of would-be professionals in Manipuri music world.
This is not the end of my story as well as 'Shared Solace'. What it took to make the musical extravaganza a complete affair was the premier screening of Songs of Mashangva, a documentary film by Oinam Doren, based on the life and works of Mangshava. The film depicts unique components of multiple trans-cultural interactions of folk music and its dynamic influences on social development. During his documentary filmmaking career, Doren is known for new milestones in cross-cultural exploration of North East Indian music.
Giving peace a peace march to unite hill and valley, 'Shared Solace' developed a wide variety of dynamism in the forms of music. The event really set new development in context of social, ideological and cultural similarities, and to understand sharing spaces among different communities as integral to the history and tradition of Manipur. Hope such event would someday help rebuild the common roof for all of us!
* Jyaneswar Laishram contributes to e-pao.net regularly. The writer can be reached at ozzyjane(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was webcasted on September 12, 2010.
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